- By Levi Rickert
Opinion. Friday was Michigan Indian Day. It was a time to celebrate our American Indian heritage on a day set aside for each fourth Friday of September in 1974 by Michigan lawmakers.
Given the recent news that includes the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the United States surpassing 200,000 Covid-19 deaths, and the president suggesting numerous times he would not accept the results of the presidential election, I welcomed the opportunity to celebrate simply being Potawatomi.
It was an opportunity to see fellow Native American community members who I had not seen in months because of Covid-19. With the pandemic still upon us, organizers of the events required attendees to abide by CDC guidelines by wearing facial masks and practicing social distancing, so I was comfortable and happy to be there.
Friday was a beautiful fall day in downtown Grand Rapids at Rosa Parks Circle, the public space in my city that is named for the iconic civil rights champion. The sounds of the drum and jingle dresses made me feel proud to be Potawatomi.
Across the street from Rosa Parks Circle stands the 18-story McKay Tower that was purchased in January by the economic development corporations of the Match-E-Be-Nash-She-Wish Band of Pottawatomi Indians of Michigan (commonly known as the Gun Lake Tribe) and Nottawaseppi Huron Band of Potawatomi. Speakers at the event referenced with pride the two tribes owning the landmark tower.
After I left downtown, I posted a photograph of myself on my personal Facebook page. In the photograph, with the McKay Tower in the background, I wore a t-shirt that was handed out by the National Indian Gaming Association at a conference that read: “Unite – Vote! 2020.” Covering my mouth and nose, I wore a black mask with the word “Potawatomi” in white letters.
I posted the photograph because I wanted to stress the importance of Native Americans casting their votes and wearing a mask during the pandemic.
The post seemed popular among my followers—with one exception. Someone commented: “Take off mask stop buying into haux.” I assumed that the writer, who I did not recognize as a friend or family member, meant “hoax.”
I seldom respond to negative comments because people are entitled to their opinions and to be a journalist in the days of Trump you have to have thick skin. This time was different because I am tired of the false narrative that considers the pandemic a phony lie. Too many people are dying from Covid-19.
Ever since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic, there have been those, including the president of the United States, who have called this global public health crisis a hoax.
There are those who deny science because they think being told to wear a mask infringes on their individual rights.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) offers the following guidance on the effectiveness of wearing masks to prevent the spread of the virus:
“Masks are recommended as a simple barrier to help prevent respiratory droplets from traveling into the air and onto other people when the person wearing the mask coughs, sneezes, talks, or raises their voice. This is called source control. This recommendation is based on what we know about the role respiratory droplets play in the spread of the virus that causes COVID-19, paired with emerging evidence from clinical and laboratory studies that shows masks reduce the spray of droplets when worn over the nose and mouth.”
As far as the infringement on a person’s rights goes, the government enforces the rules all the time. Government even tells us what streets are open or closed. One day you may take a route to work and the next it’s closed to traffic. We certainly cannot remove the “road closed” sign and proceed because “it’s our right.” We may end up harming ourselves or others.
There are those who have called the tragic deaths of 200,000 Americans a hoax. They have concocted false information that hospitals were paid more money if they listed deaths as the result of Covid-19.
“Data has suggested that, in fact, there’s a significant undercount of deaths due to COVID,” Jennifer Kates, the Kaiser Family Foundation’s director of global health and HIV policy, told PolitiFact.
I don’t think anyone could persuade Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez that Covid-19 isn’t a real pandemic. The Navajo have suffered immensely due to the virus. With more than 10,000 confirmed positive cases and over 550 deaths among its citizens, I don’t think anyone on the country’s largest reservation could be convinced it is all a hoax.
Indian Country, along with Black and Hispanic communities, has been hit harder by Covid-19 compared to the rest of America.
It is a major insult to the families and friends of the 200,000-plus Americans who have died from Covid-19 to call their tragic losses the result of a worldwide hoax.
In these difficult times in the United States and across Indian Country, it is time we show the due respect that our Potawatomi elders have taught us through generations.
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